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22 January 2014 @ 07:15 am
30 years ago today  
File 770 reminds us that this is the thirtieth anniversary of the commercial that introduced the Macintosh. I don't remember how I felt about it at the time, but now I am tempted to see it as the Fall.

John Clute has written about that terrible stuff he calls First SF, characterized as a view of the material world as a series of problems to be solved. When I read that, I thought, "Oh, so that's why I love it." I don't actually have autism or Asperger's, but I'm on the spectrum: I live in my mind and deal with the world, rather than living in the world like we're supposed to. First SF dreamed of being better at that: We'd be safer from the elements, live longer and better, have machines doing the dull stuff, turn sex from a deadly serious business (Eric Berne called it a giant squid) into shared pleasure, escape the giant prison at the bottom of the gravity well….

And we would have computers. Well, First SF mostly thought we would have A Computer, but for once reality outstripped the Dream: Everybody could have one. And they would be more than "computers": We could use words, as well as numbers, to deal with the material world from a safe distance.

Then came the Commercial. Now there would be a computer for the rest of them. No more all those hard words and numbers; computers would have pictures. Perhaps some day computers will be just like television! Or better; you could push and pull the stuff on the screen instead of having to talk to it. (I love being able to utter a simple incantation like CTRL-C rather than d-r-a-g things.) In retrospect what it reminded me of was 1967 and that godawful song telling people to come to San Francisco with flowers in their hair: It brought a lot of Them into what used to be a place for Us.

I am of course not saying that the influx was all bad. Two of the best and smartest people I have ever known, my beloved cohusband womzilla and the late Robert Anton Wilson, love the touchable computer. I have no idea how many of the people I now enjoy interacting with online wouldn't be here if all we had was the old kind of PC, but I'll bet it's a lot. But just as "science fiction" has gone from words and ideas on a page to violence and special effects on a screen, so a "computer" can now be a handheld interactive TV. And it isn't safe any more: Outside forces are running programs on our computers all time, and we must defend ourselves against the bad ones. Still, we have not lost the ability to read science fiction or use words on computers. (I'm doing it right now.)

One thing I learned from File 770: For years no one could show the commercial for fear of lawsuits from the George Orwell estate. Imagine a copyright lawyer stamping on a human face forever.
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et in Arcadia egoboo: Ada  Lovelaceapostle_of_eris on January 22nd, 2014 10:55 pm (UTC)
My number one meme about the whole information revolution is It's Earlier Than You Think. My benchmark is the history of the printing press; I read recently that it took 40 years to invent page numbers.
And until the iPhone broke the mental monopoly of the WIMP interface, that 1968 technology was my prime peeve. Where else in computing is 40 year old technology still current? sheesh
But I'm utterly enthusiastic about the democratisation of the Web. The whole world together can have more good ideas than any fraction of it.

You can't blame George Lucas on Steve Jobs or Douglas Englebart.
Baron Dave Rommbarondave on January 24th, 2014 06:27 am (UTC)
The Commercial was easily obtainable in Mac circles; it was on a MacAddict Disk, iirc. I think I showed it in class at one point. I probably have a copy somewhere on this computer now, a needle in a haystack of my legacy stuff.

I have a long, acupressure related, observation on Hand People vs. Eye People. Suffice it to say I don't like the touch screen (on the iPod) nearly as much as the mouse-and-keyboard controls of my desktop.

I have no doubt that we will someday use computers like Scotty back in time in Star Trek IV (the one with the whales). Still, I'm a GUI kinda guy. Jobs didn't come up with the ideas behind the Mac, but he knew they would be needed, and in what combination.

Hmmm.... I wrote on this topic for the late Mac Evangelist, Guy Kawasaki's pre-blog blog back in 1997. I don't see it anywhere on the net now. I should just add it to my site.